Starting the Year Ahead with Change

  • Starting the Year Ahead with Change

    January 2023

    Lose weight. Eat healthier. Exercise more. Spend more time with family and friends. How many of us have made New Year’s resolutions such as these? How often do our resolutions lead to long-term change? I know that too often I have made similar resolutions only to have them fall apart before the end of January. However, one thing I have been more successful with during the last 10 years is choosing one thing each January to focus on improving in my teaching during the year to better meet the needs of my students.

    My goals have changed from year to year, with some needing to be repeated more than once before my teaching changes. One year, for example, I focused on adding a Puzzle of the Week, which included things such as Scramble Squares, number puzzles, or letter puzzles for interested students to work on before class began or if they finished their work early. Another year, I spent two or three minutes each Monday presenting a PowerPoint® focused on a a different Mathematician of the Week, highlighting the work of those mathematicians who are not White males. Other years, I focused on increasing the amount of student-to-student dialogue, having a lesson closure other than the bell ringing, or doing more formative assessments.

    Why is change so important? Sometimes people say, “It must be nice to teach the same grade level for over 25 years so you can just reuse prior lesson plans.” I quickly dispel that notion and point out that changing things is necessary if we are truly interested in meeting the needs of each of our students and that change keeps teaching fresh for me. As a beginning teacher, I tried to make too many changes in my instruction all at once. Needless to say, most of those changes did not last, and it became overwhelming. Learning from this, I made the decision to focus on one thing at a time and found more success.

    Earlier in my career, I would choose one thing for the entire school year to focus on improving. I would often do well for the first few months in the fall and then begin to wonder if I could sustain it for the remainder of the school year. Far too often, I stopped working on my one goal. However, starting in January never seemed as daunting. When I reached the sustaining question, the end of the school year would be in sight, and I would push myself to finish strong. Many of those things have now become a regular part of my instructional practices because I had focused on them for half of the school year; and for goals that required creating resources, such as puzzles or PowerPoints, I now had half the school year done already.

    Putting accountability plans in place is necessary for change to take place—at least for me! Each January, I share with my students why I’m making a change or addition to my teaching and invite them to help hold me accountable. Some years, I have also shared my goal with a colleague or with my PLC. I found it helpful to set up periodic calendar reminders so that I do not lose sight of the change I want to make. Creating a plan is important to help hold ourselves accountable for making positive changes to better meet the needs of our students.

    As you return from your winter break, what is one change you will make in your instructional practices to better meet the needs of your students? How will you hold yourself accountable? I would love to hear about the change you want to make. Consider posting your change in myNCTM or let me know via email, and I will follow up with you in a month or so to hear how it is going and help keep you accountable.

    Kevin Dykema
    NCTM President